Baudson and Preckel (2013) set out to examine the preconceptions educators have about the personalities of gifted students to better serve their needs. Implicit personality theories refer to the beliefs that individuals hold about the characteristics, abilities, and behaviors of different types of people. These assumptions shape people’s behavior and interactions with others, often without them even realizing it (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). The purpose of the study was to determine if educators’ implicit personality theories about gifted students influenced their classroom attitudes and actions. They theorized that educators who held positive implicit attitudes toward gifted students would give those students more rigorous and relevant coursework. The researchers tested their hypothesis with 119 German educators from a range of educational settings (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). The educators were split into two groups, one with a positive expectancy and the other with a negative one. Teachers in the positive expectancy group were given a profile of a gifted student that focused on the student’s strengths, such as intelligence and creativity. Teachers in the “negative expectancy” condition read about a gifted student who had difficulties interacting with others and dealing with emotional issues.
A total of 119 teachers from a wide range of German schools took part in the study. The average age of the teachers in the sample was 43. There were 62% women and 38% men. There was a wide range of teaching experience among the staff, with 31% having fewer than 10 years of experience, 30% between 10 and 20 years, and 39% with more than 20 years (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). General education (68%), gifted education (10%), and vocational education (22%) schools were all represented among the participants. Eighty-five percent of the teachers had worked with gifted students before, and another 66 percent had completed training specifically related to working with this population. Teachers had to fit a certain profile to take part in the study (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). First, they needed to work in a school that provided services or programs for gifted students. Second, they had to have prior experience working with academically advanced students. Finally, they needed to be able to read and understand German, as this was the study’s official language.
An effective experimental methodology was used to probe educators’ unstated assumptions about gifted students’ personalities. Researchers were able to investigate what influences teachers’ assessments of students’ personalities by using a within-subjects design and varying the independent variables (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). Teachers’ explicit beliefs about giftedness were also measured thanks to the questionnaire. Three independent variables were tested in this study using a 2 x 2 x 2 factorial design: giftedness (gifted vs. average), gender (male vs. female), and achievement (high vs. low). The teachers’ assessments of the student’s personalities served as the dependent variable. The researchers began by writing four vignettes, each of which detailed the experiences of a fictional student who was different from the others in terms of gender, academic ability, and giftedness (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). The student’s academic accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and interests were included in concise vignettes. Each participant provided ratings for all four vignettes, as the study used a within-subjects design. To avoid any potential order effects, the order of the vignettes was shuffled. Teachers were asked to evaluate their students along six dimensions of character: extroversion, agreeability, neuroticism, self-esteem, and openness to experience. The data was analyzed using a mixed-design ANOVA by the scientists (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). Ability was a within-subjects variable, while giftedness and gender were between-subjects variables. The researchers also ran supplementary analyses to determine the relative significance of the various independent variables. Researchers used both the vignettes and a questionnaire to gauge teachers’ explicit attitudes toward gifted students. Teachers’ conceptions of giftedness, the relative weight of various criteria for identifying gifted students, and their feelings about gifted education were all probed by the survey.
The teachers’ explicit beliefs about the characteristics of gifted students were also assessed by the researchers using a questionnaire. Teachers’ implicit theories of the personalities of gifted and average students were found to be distinct. The teachers consistently gave higher ratings to the gifted students, regardless of their actions, than they did to the average students (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). This finding indicates that educators have a preconceived notion that gifted students are superior to their less-talented peers. Teachers’ evaluations of students were also influenced by their explicit beliefs about the traits shared by gifted learners. Teachers who had more favorable attitudes toward gifted students gave those students higher ratings in areas such as intelligence, creativity, and social attractiveness.
Teachers’ implicit theories of gifted students’ personalities were affected by students’ gender and academic achievement, but not giftedness, the study found. In particular, female students were rated higher by teachers for conscientiousness and agreeability. Teachers also reported higher levels of conscientiousness, extraversion, and self-esteem among high achievers, and higher levels of neuroticism among low achievers (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). The study’s findings suggest that teachers do not have any particular implicit personality theories about giftedness, as there were no differences in their ratings of gifted and average students. The survey data, however, demonstrated that educators have some definite ideas about what it means to be gifted, such as the significance of high levels of academic achievement and motivation (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013). The results of the study as a whole suggest that teachers’ implicit theories of students’ personalities are influenced by demographic variables like gender and academic performance, but not necessarily by giftedness. As the findings show, teachers’ expectations and interactions with students can be influenced by their own implicit biases, making it crucial to account for them when evaluating and assisting students. The research also highlights the importance of educators considering how their own implicit biases about gifted learners may influence their instruction.
Teachers’ implicit theories of gifted students’ personalities, as explored by Baudson and Preckel (2013), have connections to the Five-Factor Trait Theory developed by McRae and Costa. Openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism are the five dimensions of personality proposed by the Five-Factor Trait Theory. The results shed light on how these dimensions may be linked to educators’ unstated assumptions about gifted students’ personalities.
The Five-Factor Trait Theory includes “experience openness” as one of its factors. One’s openness to new information and experiences is what this trait measures. Teachers who score highly in openness to experience may be predisposed to hold favorable implicit beliefs about gifted students, given that they are more likely to be receptive to the possibility of noticing and appreciating the distinctive qualities of these students (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013).
Teachers’ unspoken assumptions about gifted students’ personalities may also be informed by the conscientiousness dimension of the Five-Factor Trait Theory. This dimension relates to the extent to which a person is organized, responsible, and dependable. Teachers with high levels of conscientiousness may have more realistic implicit beliefs about the abilities of gifted students and be more likely to give these students challenging and meaningful learning opportunities (Baudson, & Preckel, 2013).
The other three dimensions of the Five-Factor Trait Theory are extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Teachers’ interactions with gifted students may be influenced by these factors, even if they have no direct bearing on the teachers’ implicit personality theories about these students. Teachers high in extroversion, for instance, maybe more open to interacting with gifted students and giving them chances to work in groups. Teachers with a high level of agreeableness may be more likely to encourage and praise their gifted students. Finally, teachers who score low on the neuroticism scale may be better able to provide a nurturing learning environment for gifted students.
The Five-Factor Trait Theory developed by McRae and Costa is a helpful framework for analyzing the possible associations between teachers’ personality traits and their implicit personality theories regarding gifted students. According to the results, traits like openness to experience and conscientiousness from the Five-Factor Trait Theory may be especially important here. These connections and their potential effects on pedagogy could be investigated further in future studies.
Baudson, T. G., & Preckel, F. (2013). Teachers’ implicit personality theories about the gifted: An experimental approach. School Psychology Quarterly, 28(1), 37–46. https://doi.org/10.1037/spq0000011